Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 24, 2020 — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is concerned for the safety of around 1,300 refugees who risk being made homeless as Lipa camp, a temporary reception centre, faces closure in the wake of a devastating fire.
Around 3,500 people are already sleeping rough amid heavy snowfall along the border with Croatia, as a result of transit and reception centres in the country being overcrowded. In the wake of the fire that destroyed Lipa, if those who lived there are also forced to sleep rough, conditions will be tantamount to a humanitarian crisis.
With tensions between local people and migrants already high and heavy snow likely to continue until February, the IRC is calling for the human rights and dignity of those who rely on temporary reception centres for shelter, to be recognised by the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Jovana Arsenijević, Head of IRC Balkans, said:
“The longer this situation is left unresolved, we become more likely to bear witness to further tragedy. Yesterday’s fire should act as an alarm bell to leaders who have a responsibility to put the human rights and dignity of refugees at the heart of decision making, and must urgently step up to ensure the safety of those living in camps and the surrounding areas of Bihac.
“If neglected, the situation along the border with Croatia could spiral into a humanitarian crisis for the thousands of people caught along the Balkan route. If the aftermath of the fire is left unresolved, it is likely that it’s residents will disperse across Una Sana Canton and be forced to seek shelter in abandoned squats or find makeshift shelters in the surrounding woodland.
“The subzero temperatures and lack of shelter should be cause enough for concern, but the added threats of live minefields and wild animals, as well as violent ‘pushbacks’ at the border, have alarmed humanitarian actors in the region.
“No one should be left to fend for themselves in such an environment, and it is critical that temporary reception centres remain open to ensure the safety of vulnerable people.”
Throughout 2020, the IRC has been supporting local partners across Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide emergency supplies, food and first medical aid to refugees and migrants sleeping rough. You can learn more about our work here.